INDIANAPOLIS — One of the main clichés often heard in the National Football League is the need for a team to focus "one day at a time."
And while that saying is often repeated, it is an approach that Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano has taken to heart since he took over in 2012.
But to D'Qwell Jackson, "one day at a time" is far from some silly, overused expression.
As the Colts head into December just one game out of the lead in the win column in the AFC South Division standings, Jackson said focusing on the team's upcoming opponent — and not worrying about what might happen down the road — has been the team's true approach.
"You have to focus on the week, one week at a time, one day at a time," said Jackson, an 11-year veteran out of Maryland. "And if you've been around this game and you've been in locker rooms for a long time, that's the way you compartmentalize the games. You can't look ahead, you can't look back; you've got to focus on where we are at this point."
The Colts head into Monday night's game against the New York Jets with a 5-6 record — certainly not where they expected to be at this juncture when the season began, but they still have a shot at breaking into the playoffs by solidifying their play in December.
With the Houston Texans losing on the road to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday — and with the Tennessee Titans on their bye week — a win for the Colts on Monday against the Jets would produce a three-way tie atop the division at 6-6.
Colts tackle/guard Jack Mewhort, however, echoes Pagano and Jackson's approach, saying "we can't just sit there and say we have to win them all" to make the playoffs.
"We know where we want to go, but you have to win one at a time," Mewhort said. "We know we have to be successful in December to go where we want to go. It starts Monday night in New York. I say it all the time, you start looking ahead and the little things slip and then that kind of snowballs into big stuff. You have to take it day by day, hour by hour and stay in your routine and prepare and be a professional to be successful in December."
For the Colts, their entire focus has been on a Jets team that Pagano has said repeatedly is much better than its 3-8 record would indicate.
The New York defense is littered with first-round draft picks, and ranks fourth against the run. Its offense, meanwhile, has proven veterans all around, with Ryan Fitzpatrick running things at quarterback.
From a linebacker and team captain perspective, Jackson said the key against Fitzpatrick is to make sure you keep your hands up at all times as he looks to deliver the ball. At 6 foot 2, Fitzpatrick certainly isn't the tallest quarterback in the league, which means he'll throw it into a defender's hands from time to time.
"If you watch him on film, he's a guy that's able to make plays with his arm, make plays with his legs, and he's a tough guy — he's not going to slide a whole bunch," Jackson said. "And he's a gunslinger. And as long as we keep him in the pocket, keep him caged in the pocket, we're able to get our hands up — just watching film of him, he's got a lot of balls batted at the line of scrimmage, because he's not a really tall guy. So we can generate pressure down the middle, keep him in the pocket, get our hands up, get our hands on some balls, maybe he might throw us a few."
Jackson will also be tasked with keeping track of two-time Pro Bowl running back Matt Forte, who signed with the Jets this season after spending the first eight seasons of his career with the Chicago Bears.
The last time Forte played against the Colts, he ran the ball 16 times for 80 yards and a touchdown, while catching three passes for another 40 yards, in the Bears' 41-21 home victory over the Colts in both teams' 2012 season opener.
Colts safety Mike Adams said "Matt Forte is (still) Matt Forte."
"He's a good runner, downhill runner, cutback player and he makes plays," Adams said.